New Zealand tour
Hansen believes two refs are better than one
November 17, 2008
Referee Mark Lawrence keeps an eye on the action during New Zealand's victory over Ireland at Croke Park at the weekend © Getty Images
All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen advocates the appointment of two referees to control rugby internationals, claiming the modern game is too fast for one official to efficiently adjudicate.
Hansen revealed his proposal when appraising the All Blacks' 22-3 defeat of Ireland in Dublin last Saturday. Careful not to criticise South African referee Mark Lawrence, Hansen said the contest at Croke Park offered further evidence that two referees might find it easier to follow play and rule at contentious areas, notably the breakdown.
"The breakdown was a bit of a mess again," he said, while claiming two legitimate tries were incorrectly ruled out. All Blacks wing Sitiveni Sivivatu's potential five-pointer was rubbed out by a marginal forward pass while lock Ali Williams claimed he had forced the ball amid three Irish defenders. Lawrence was slow to arrive on the scene and subsequent video replays were inconclusive.
Late in the game Lawrence missed a clear knock-on by All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina, despite the crowd indicating the ball had been lost and a touch judge belatedly intervened. The All Blacks are masters at implementing an up-tempo game and feel some referees are finding it difficult to handle the pace.
"Two referees would be good,' Hansen said before the team left the Irish capital for a match against Heineken Cup champions Munster on Tuesday. "I'm not blaming the referee for yesterday but the game has changed in so many ways. It's so much faster, there's so many more laws ... yet the one thing we haven't changed is the referee.
"He's still doing what he's always done. I think it might be time to look at saying, well, we might need two officials on the park."
Hansen admitted he had no precise idea on how a twin referee system would actually work. "Whether it's half a field (each) or not I don't know, but I think we need to start looking at ways of helping our referees with what is a difficult job.
"It's getting difficult, it's just the speed of the game. You only have to watch games from three years ago (to notice)."
All Blacks management met International Rugby Board (IRB) referees' boss Paddy O'Brien while they were in Dublin and had wide-ranging discussions.
"We talked about a lot of things and I think Paddy acknowledged things had to change, but it will be a slow process," he said. Hansen said another solution would be for the IRB to appoint a panel of 10 top referees to adjudicate all test matches.
"The top six would do all the top nations and if you don't go any good, you drop back down to seven, eight, nine and 10 and you get yourself better."
He also said neutrality should not be an issue. The best referees should not be ruled out of tests involving their own country if the match demanded a top official. Hansen said the players' workload put a referee's lot into perspective.
"We're playing 15 tests this years, in three years guys could have 45 tests."
Referees, meanwhile, could never gain experience so quickly, a scenario Hansen described as "slightly bizarre". The IRB has already said it would soon consider operating a new system where the highest ranked referees controlled the top internationals.
However, the proposal needed agreement from referees given they would face more travel.
The IRB currently has 17 referees on its top level of merit. O'Brien last week said the IRB did experience difficulty finding capable replacements for the referees who had retired since 2000.
Andre Watson, David McHugh, Peter Marshall, Scott Young, Andrew Cole, Tappe Henning, Paul Honiss, Tony Spreadbury and Joel Dume are all no longer active.
"Losing all that calibre makes it hard to replace them," O'Brien said.